A Minnesota disclosure law has revealed that drug companies are devoting large sums of money to many members of state advisory panels who make decisions on which drugs will be used in Medicaid programs.

The Minnesota Medicaid Drug Formulary Committee is considering a conflict-of-interest policy that requires panel members to disclose such financial relationships and refrain from voting on drugs that may pose a conflict of interest.

Without such disclosure laws -- which exist only in three states, Minnesota, Vermont, and Maine -- there's no way to know whether financial ties between the drug industry and state advisers exist.

Upon examining records in Minnesota, the Associated Press found the eight-member state panel did include some ties to the industry. Namely:
- John E. Simon, a Minneapolis psychiatrist, earned $354,700 from companies including Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca from 2004 to 2006 in honoraria, speaker's and consulting fees, plus other payments ranging from $500 to $93,012.

- Robert Straka, a University of Minnesota pharmacy professor, earned $78,100 in honoraria and other fees from 2000 to 2006.
Both men, and the committee chairman, maintain that the payments did not influence their committee decisions.

Still, medical ethicists say that state drug advisers should not receive money from drug companies because of their power over poor, disabled patients in the Medicaid system.

The Minnesota Medicaid Drug Formulary Committee's recommendations to the state are usually followed. In 2006, they led $240 million in spending on drugs for 202,000 patients.

Minnesota state officials are planning to examine the Committee's past actions for any potential bias, and will screen advisory council members for ties to the drug industry. They will also be requiring the Committee to record how each member of the panel votes.

Washington Post August 21, 2007

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The more attention that's paid to the rampant conflicts of interest going on in local, state, and federal governments, the better. This Washington Post article clearly illustrates the kind of money being thrown around by drug companies.

The panel members in the article stated that they were not influenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were collectively given. And they may very well believe this.

But there is something they have not taken into account.

Cognitive bias.

This is the term that describes your mind's preconceived notions about reality, and its effect on the way you think and act. These panel members have received lavish gifts (money) from the drug companies, and this will impact their decisions, whether consciously or not.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is becoming infamous for its many ties to the drug industry, so it's not at all surprising to see these types of connections on the state level too.

If you were shocked by the news in this article, please pass it on to your friends and loved ones using the "E-mail to a Friend" button. The more we get the word out, the easier it will be to start the process of ensuring responsible leadership when it comes to your health.

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